a toothed bar with which a pawl engages.
(not in technical use) a pawl or the like used with a ratchet or ratchet wheel.
a mechanism consisting of such a bar or wheel with the pawl.
a steady progression up or down: the upward ratchet of oil prices.
verb (used with object), verb (used without object)
to move by degrees (often followed by up or down ): to ratchet prices up; Interest rates have been ratcheting downward.

1650–60; alteration of French rochet; Middle French rocquet a blunt lance-head < Germanic

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World English Dictionary
ratchet (ˈrætʃɪt)
1.  a device in which a toothed rack or wheel is engaged by a pawl to permit motion in one direction only
2.  the toothed rack or wheel forming part of such a device
vb (usually foll by up or down)
3.  to operate using a ratchet
4.  to increase or decrease, esp irreversibly: electricity prices will ratchet up this year; Hitchcock ratchets up the tension once again
[C17: from French rochet, from Old French rocquet blunt head of a lance, of Germanic origin: compare Old High German rocko distaff]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

1659, from Fr. rochet "bobbin, spindle," from It. rocchetto "spool, ratchet," dim. of rocca "distaff," possibly from a Gmc. source (cf. O.H.G. rocko "distaff," O.N. rokkr), from P.Gmc. *rukka-, from PIE base *rug- "to spin." Cf. rocket (2). Spelling in Eng. influenced by
Ger. Rätsche "ratchet." The verb is first recorded 1881; transf. sense is from 1977.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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